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SUZANNE BURLTON notices the powerful but not obnoxious odour of veracity.

ADC Theatre, 26-30th October, £8-10

Directed by Morgan Ring


Tennessee Williams’ noted GCSE set text portrays a southern American family celebrating the birthday of its patriarch. Unsurprisingly there are problems behind the facade, and it seems inevitable that it will all fall apart.

Josephine Starte does a delightful turn as Maggie, the hapless wife of the younger, alcoholic son. She chatters merrily away at first, but then an air of tragedy enters her voice and she becomes faintly hysterical without acknowledging a shift. It is a subtle performance, but also one that makes you wish she would breathe every now and then. Simon Haines gives a measured performance of Big Daddy, rising to anger and a truly affecting reaction when the Big Secret of the play is revealed to him. It was a very powerful moment.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Tamara Astor as Big Mama, however. She has a huge range, something which the rest of the cast sometimes lacked, and her physicality was just perfect for the part and very distinctive. Her devastation on discovering the family secret was exquisitely painful to behold.

Two of my noirest bêtes come up in this piece – children and accents. I hate to go on about it, but why use child actors when there are perfectly serviceable student ones? The children were awkward and comical when they shouldn’t have been. The petulant ‘You’re just jealous because you can’t have babies’ made me cringe. The accents, however, were spot on. The use of a dialogue coach paid recession-beating dividends; it makes all the difference not to have English vowels spoiling the setting.

Talking of which, the set was lovely, most notably the stunningly lit cyclorama at the back. There were some technical fails, such as doors failing to open and sound being far too loud, but this was the first night and I’m sure those will be sorted out in due course. This is a good production of a well-chosen play, and the whole team are to be congratulated.

  • Did you understand?

    Why use child actors?! Becasue the children had to be between the ages of 5 and 10 to be Mae and Gooper's kids. Do you think students would do better at portraying this age than children actually of that age? An error in your thinking, I believe, Ms. Burlton.

    I saw the show last night and thought the children were great. The audience's indulgence of their singing grated a little, but that was the audience's fault, not the children's.

    As for the rest of it, I was bowled over. A hearty well done to all involved.

  • Frank Merlo

    "Why use child actors when there are perfectly serviceable student ones?" — I imagine because it was Tennessee Williams' intention. And he's writing 'Cat' after two incredibly succesful, long-running Broadway hits, 2 Drama Critics Circle Awards and a Pulitzer Prize – he knows what effect he's creating when he puts children onstage. The volume of applause and cheering when the children took their bow yesterday is testament to that. They were adorable.

    And it's not a GCSE text. It's A-level.

    • ugh

      Adorable? So you're saying Tennessee Williams, the Lloyd Webber of shouting, the whinge-merchant of the Western world, wanted child actors as a cheap ploy to get the audience on-side and cooing? You shock me.

      This play isn't worthy of GCSE study – making schmaltz gritty doesn't stop it being shcmaltz, it just makes idiots think it's more important. It's Eastenders for people who think they should go to the theatre.

  • Henry Tudor

    Thats a terrible comment to make about a seminal piece of writing. It's not a small collective who think it is powerful but widely thought of as being one of the greatest plays ever written.

    Ugh yourself…narrow minded person that you are.

    • Eurgh

      Seminal as in jizz. Popularity does not equal brilliance, cf previous comparison to Lloyd-Webber. Similarly, Chris Moyles is not the greatest DJ of our age, nor are the Tories anything other than shit.

      It's significantly more narrow-minded to assume that because Sparknotes says it's seminal this play is anything other than button-pushing dross.

      • a single question

        Eurgh – have you actually seen the production???

        • eeeeeurgh

          In the West End and off-Broadway, as well as in Cambridge – I tend to get dragged along by unimaginative relatives. In each performance I saw at least a couple of talented actors wasted on a script that has less to add to our understanding of the human condition than the average episode of Hollyoaks.

          An essay I wrote about how shit it is compared to the work of fellow set texter Arthur Miller got a first. That means all of Cambridge is against you.

          • Frank Merlo

            Miller and Williams very different writers and, although they had their disagreements at times and Miller became weary of Williams' "personal lyricism", they both mutually respected each other's work as excellent for what it was even if Miller's mission was more socially/politically focused, Williams is personally radical. But fair enough to have different tastes. You're obviously being silly with "All of Cambridge is against you". Perhaps I'm inhuman (or more likely just a different kind of human) but Williams has certainly offered me a lot of understanding on my human condition, and that empathy and compassion is something audiences have connected to in his work for more than 60 years now. Shame you didn't enjoy this production. I did, and so have most of the people I've spoken to. But it takes all sorts. Who knows – maybe the ADC will offer you some Miller soon? Watch this space…

  • Mark Ronson

    terrible review; terrible performance

  • hurr durr

    yeah but albee is better than both of those fucking clowns. man i hate miller. i like williams, but anyone who champions miller as something williams should aspire to can shut right up.